Catching Standards

I had a talk with my 4th graders about tossing and catching. We were also talking about grading and report cards and what those things mean.

Yesterday when I presented them with an obstacle course which included some benches, speed ladders (the flexible kind you put on the floor), a couple of mat spaces, a few micro hurdles and a low Swedish box, I didn’t instruct them on how to travel. They made it up as they went and showed both creativity as well as control. One or two students asked me: Is this going to be on the report card? I frowned-smiled and shook my head, “no” wondering where on earth that question had come from.

Today I took the opportunity to ask them.

Me: How could I put an obstacle course on the report card?

You could write it in.

Me: And then say what?

If we were good or bad.

You could say if a person could do the moves.

Me: Aha, so being able to do the moves would be good and not being able to do the moves would be bad?

But maybe someone could practice and learn how to do the moves.

Me: Practice sounds like a good idea.

Me: Well, what about catching today? I notice that everyone is working with a partner, there’s lots of tossing and catching but I don’t see very many orange tickets yet. (Students put in orange tickets for doing 30 catches in a row with a partner.) Why is that?

*A brief hush and several looks over to the white board where this is written down.*

Me: I believe that you are all capable of doing 30 catches with a partner and there are lots of ways you could do it. You can decide how far apart you want to stand, you can decide which kind of thing you want to toss – a beanbag, a ragball (like a small soft football) or a letter ball (volleyball sized foam dodecahedron (12 sides)). But this is also a chance for me to see how you will challenge yourself. Are you going to stand super close to each other like playing hot potato? Or what if you stand way across the room from each other, how long do you think it might take you to get to 30 catches?

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Catches were made, orange tickets added. (c)edifiedlistener

The conversation was illuminating. I see that my students have a lot on their minds in the gym. And I’m pretty sure that grades and skill performance are not their first priorities upon arrival. At the same time, after they’ve found a friend to work with and determined which part of the lesson they are psyched about, they do care about succeeding. They want to be seen as “good” at something. They try to avoid looking “bad.” They want to have a good time and experience some level of satisfaction. How each child goes about achieving this can look wildly different, even within the same assigned task. This is what makes teaching and learning in groups, in classes, in schools unbelievably complex and ultimately difficult.

I tell my kids I am focusing on catching. That’s what I am planning on assessing. But there’s so much else going on: long haul throws that overshoot the mark, extremely creative attempts to change things up – by twirling, bending over, tossing under a leg; there are a couple of students who need half the time to locate a new partner and then to get restarted; equipment gets lost in the rafters and student lose a couple more pieces trying to knock the first piece down. They are catching and tossing and throwing and missing, dropping and pitching. My students are showing me a host of behaviors, affinities, capabilities, weak points. And I’m trying to focus on catching.

I repeat this exercise over several lessons. I’ve taught the major skill points. We know that catching involves more than just trapping an object between our hands. The point is, that students, as young humans, inevitably are going to show me more than the skill itself. They will demonstrate the art of the catch. Their art of the catch. And over the years, this is the part that I seem to be able to see better and often more clearly than the catching itself.

According to the standards, most of my students meet the grade level expectation for catching. Some students also exceed the grade level expectation for catching, while others are approaching the grade level expectation.

Thankfully for my students and me, we can have space and appreciation for all the things that are going on in class that do not belong to assessments or grading. Sometimes we’re  practicing. Sometimes we’re experimenting and trying out our ideas. We’re trying to be nice to each other. We play old games and make up new rules. We lose track of time. We talk to each other. Many of us believe running and screaming are inseparable. We are in a hurry and some of us have all the time in the world. We’re getting stronger and more flexible. We’re singing and dancing because we know these songs. We freeze when the music stops. Or not.

It’s all happening. These moments of happenings make up the fabric of my teaching days. Altogether it’s far too much to register, note, document. But the impressions they leave are real and substantial over days, weeks, months, years.

I rarely remember what a student got on their PE part of the report card years after I have had them as a student. I can usually recall, however, what she liked, where he struggled and what we discovered in our time together.

 

The Last Day of 3rd Grade

My young son who is 9 years old had his last day of school today and has officially completed 3rd grade at his Austrian elementary school. Traditionally the first and last days of elementary school (perhaps even in secondary) are very short and sweet. A bit like a meet and greet, except on the last day it’s a meet-and-pick-up-that-all-important-report-card-for-which-I-hope-you-brought-a-plastic-sleeve-to-take-it-home-in. The teacher says some nice words to the kids while parents gather to enjoy a final burst of pre-vacation small talk which differs only slightly from first-day small talk. For the most part you can keep the same activities and just change the verb tense from future to past.

I actually kind of like this tradition. Probably because it’s tradition and I’m also reasonably chilled out because my school year ended two weeks ago. I have time, so of course, it’s no problem to wait outside while the teacher-student thing is happening and then pick a low stakes activity to do with a couple of other families who have time and kids on their hands.

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At any rate, the boy received his Zeugnis (report card) for the first time with “real” number grades. In Austria the scale goes from 1 – Excellent to 5- Not adequate (in between are 2-good, 3-satisfactory, 4-adequate). On our walk to school he was already speculating what his grades might look like. He was pretty confident they’d be good or better but also wondered what might happen if he got a 3.

That’s where I had to stop him and explain that exactly nothing happens. Nothing. No upset, no punishment, nothing. On the way back home I also put the idea out there that his report card tells me very little about how his school year was, what he learned, how he learned it, what he liked most and what he didn’t like at all. It doesn’t tell me what kind of person he is in his class group, where his special strengths are, where he might need more support and where he made the greatest efforts. Nope, the report card as is, is simply a sheet of paper which tells me the broad subjects in which he was instructed and provides a number sign for each one indicating to what degree he met the teacher’s expectations.

If I really want to know about his learning then I have to ask him. And listen to his responses. I need to pay attention to what happens when we read a story together, to the questions that come up for him pretty much any time we are together. If I really want a picture of his progress then I can pour over the stacks of individual papers he has brought home all year long. I can read the stories he writes for homework. If I really want to know how the school year is and was, the most I can do and perhaps also the best, is to be available, open, present.

Report cards are what they are: institutional records of school attendance and academic…achievement? maybe.  Academic clearing (like clearing the bar in high jump)? Closer perhaps.  Let’s say “clearing” for now (yes, I just made that up). It’s about fulfilling external criteria and being judged on that. OK. Report cards are an institutional tradition. The weight and significance we assign to this tradition and the actual document will vary – among families, between kids, within a school, across school levels and types. My hope is that I can convey to my son that we have choices in deciding how big a deal it is in the grand scheme of things.

My 9 year old is not too bothered about any of this now. He has moved on to video games, read aloud time and a big long stretch of summer plans.  I bet he’d be alarmed to know I just spent almost 700 words on it right now.  Srsly, mom? Yup.